Friday, 7 March 2014

Prisoner of Zenda (1988)

One thing that can be said in favour of this animated Australian film is that it does not outstay its welcome, clocking in at a mere 48 minutes.

That's pretty faint praise of course, but it's really all the film deserves. The animation is basic, the voice acting mediocre, and the script both weak and contrived. I mean, it's clearly aimed at a young audience, with its exaggerated character designs, slapstick humour, and black and white morality. But seriously, this came out the year before Disney's The Little Mermaid, which had gorgeous animation, actually funny humour, and ... well okay it had black and white morality as well. But it had a giant octopus monster getting impaled on a sailing ship, and a singing crab. So you have to give it points for that.

Where was I? Oh yes. This is an adaptation of the 1894 novel of the same name, though far from a faithful one. It shares the same basic premise (an Englishman happens to be the spitting image of the crown prince of a small European state, and must impersonate his royal doppelganger in order to thwart the prince's brother), but all the details are changed. The crown prince is given agency in this film, as well as a brain and a fiancee who loves him. The villainous prince has a wife rather than a mistress. She's virtuous and pure rather than a Milady De Winter type, and the film pairs her with our Englishman, rather than following the book's doomed romance (the impersonator and the crown prince's wife fall for each other, but their duty keeps them apart).

Amusingly, I did discover that there was a sequel to the novel, in which it emerges that the crown prince was a bad king and husband, making the victory of the Englishman in the first novel rather pyrrhic, really.

As for this film? Go watch Dave, instead. It's schmalzy nonsense, but it has a good cast and is honestly in some ways a closer match to the original story.

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